Mirchelle Louis is the CEO of Cancer Support Community North Texas. This piece, which appeared in The Dallas Morning News on March 9, 2015, is a fabulous perspective on why managing cancer survivorship also needs to be a priority of the medical world.
When acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns premieres his latest brainchild later this month — a fascinating three-part series on PBS (airing March 30, 31 and April 1) about innovations in cancer treatment — he is expected to reveal new thinking and groundbreaking treatments for cancer, all in the continued search for a cure.
While I’ll certainly be tuned in and hope people across North Texas will be as well, it’s important to recognize that finding a cancer cure isn’t the only pressing issue today; that elusive word cure is still out there, but times have changed. An equally important issue now is managing the journey toward survivorship.
Similar to women recently profiled by The Dallas Morning News who are managing their chronic illnesses through marathon running, more and more cancer patients are surviving, even thriving, after this awful disease. But it is not without lasting physical and psychological implications.
Burns’ series is based on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book, The Emperor of All Maladies. Emperor is a pretty grand descriptor for this dreaded disease, but I do understand the word choice. Over the past few years, I have come to refer to cancer as the great thief because it stealthily creeps into our lives, uninvited, and proceeds to steal things that are precious and important to us.
Survivors say once the word cancer enters your life, life is changed forever. Even when your doctor says you’re healthy and done, you aren’t. There are still follow-ups, scans, anxiety, people who don’t get it and mixed emotions to deal with.
What we at Cancer Support Community North Texas have found is that a cancer diagnosis is a journey — one in which the best outcomes include a thoughtful mix of medical treatment and psychological and social support from start to long after finish.
Why does this matter so much now? Because as you’ll likely see in Burns’ series, successful cancer treatment is becoming more and more about treating the whole person, and more people are surviving because of that approach.
Consider this statistic published in the journal Cancer: A study by renowned cancer researcher Dr. Barbara Andersen a few years ago revealed that people who receive psychological and social or emotional support during treatment lower the risk of cancer recurrence and dying by approximately 50 percent. Yes, 50 percent.
Imagine if on that treatment journey, in addition to the innovative new options, more people included this kind of support that our organization provides (free) in their plans. Again, survivorship.
Yes, cancer continues to be a serious disease, but research indicates treatment outcomes are better and people are living longer.
We now know more about how to meaningfully address the needs of the many more long-term cancer survivors. History also tells us that empires and emperors don’t last forever, so here’s looking forward to the time when the “emperor of all maladies” is ancient history.